New Review of The Immigration Handbook

Thank you ‘K’ so much for your thoughtful review of ‘The Immigration Handbook’ for Barham Library Book Group.The Immigration Handbook – K’s review

K’s Review – Jan 2019

I’ve never been big on reading for pleasure. Poems have been an exception, as they are usually short enough to read and be done with in short blocks of downtime. I mostly read from anthologies because an editorial team has done the hard work of uncovering the gems within their covers. I am currently most interested in contemporary world poetry(in English translation) for its alternative perspective on today’s world and its usually accessible language.

So these were the mixed prejudices/preconceived ideas that I brought to my reading of Caroline Smith’s ”The Immigration Handbook”. On the plus side, the poems were short, the book was small, and the poetry was contemporary. On the downside, the poems were all by one author who, I learnt from the back cover, appeared to be a sculptor earning a living by other means and writing poetry as a hobby. I was also doubtful about the subject of the book – a whole book of poems about immigration by a single author could surely be rather dull. Would not a more interesting prospect be a book of poems by the immigrants themselves? But hey, the poems were short. If I didn’t get into them, I didn’t feel obliged to read them all.

Wow! Wow! Wow! I was captivated from the first phrase of the first poem. And my captivity continued to the last phrase of the last poem. I read the whole collection in a few days, but it will certainly be a book that I keep and reread.

On Hold [p9]:

” He was just twenty-three,

Arjan Mehta, when first he began

calling the Home Office

from a red phone box

on the corner of Preston Road;

…”

Stamps [p69]:

”…

We wanted the ones

that had made the journey

that bore the marks of their struggle.”

This is the essence of the book: journeys and struggles. Caroline’s poems are the stories of the people in our neighbourhood; stories told from many perspectives (asylum seekers, judges, case workers, clerks ..)

I found the experience of reading the book akin to flicking through an album of snapshots; on nearly every page, my eye alighted on something to capture my imagination. And when I got to the end, I wanted to flick through it again. Each time I revisited it, I uncovered some new treasure I hadn’t noticed before.

I enjoyed the way Caroline uses simile [if that’s the correct technical term?] to move a story from a harsh present reality to evoke a distant memory and vice versa. I was surprised and delighted by the unusual and carefully chosen similes. For example, in Domestic Worker [p47], ” rhubarb erupt[s] through the bare spring garden like a miniature rainforest” in the poem’s opening phrase and the poem journeys back to the departure of the Domestic Worker from the ”depleted rainforest” of her origins.

When I reached the poems Pro Bono 1 and Pro Bono 2 [pages 32 and 33], the insight struck me that Caroline’s gift for words has likely been honed over her many years as an asylum case worker; and not only her gift for words, but a gift for understanding what is in other people’s souls – their memories, the paths they have travelled, their dreamings and imaginings. How essential such gifts must be in this employ.

In conclusion, I found this a rewarding book that I would highly recommend anyone from Wembley to the world to read.

P.S I have since discovered that Caroline Smith’s poems are included in contemporary anthologies, so she’s on my reading list already!

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